I had a name: Ava Lee.
I had one sentence: “They always seemed to call her at that time of night, either ignorant of the time difference or too desperate to care.”
I was in my second day of recuperation at home after a major bit of surgery when I sat down at the computer to write. In my first career I was a journalist, and even when I veered off into government and business I kept a hand in writing. I wrote, successfully, for several magazines, and produced a non-fiction work that was a Canadian Book of the Month Club main selection when it was published. But my attempts at writing a novel always fell short of my own expectations, and the resulting manuscripts were put into a drawer, seen by no one but me, and were certainly no loss to readers.
This time was different though. I had the name after all. How it came to me, I have no idea. There was no list. No other choice. It was just there in my head and it seemed absolutely perfect. And it still does. The fact that it was a woman’s name wasn’t even a conscious decision. I remember thinking, I guess I’m going to write about a woman.
And then I had the sentence. It wasn’t a particularly brilliant sentence, but it caught the tone of what I wanted to write, which was a novel in my favourite crime/mystery/thriller genre, and which incorporated all of my years of experience in business and all my years of travel in places most people never visit.
So I started to write. I had only the roughest of plot ideas. There was nothing written down, nothing detailed. The characters, aside from Ava, were completely unformed, and even she was just a glimmer of a thought. But I was surprised at how smoothly it actually went. Ava’s life and those of the people around her came tumbling at me, and there were times I thought I was taking dictation.
I had a routine of writing early in the morning until about two in the afternoon. Then I would take a walk, normally with my wife, and talk through the story. I found the process of verbalizing what I had written and where I thought I was going a great self-editing process. Things that I thought made sense when I put them on paper, sometimes seemed nonsensical when I spoke about them. So each morning writing session began with me rewriting the work from the day before, changing the plot as I went, letting it and Ava take me where they wanted to go.
My objective when I started was just to tell a good story. I was about halfway through writing The Deadly Touch of the Tigress when it seemed to me that I was accomplishing exactly that, and almost simultaneously I realized I had a lot more stories in me, or more specifically, I knew that Ava Lee had a life that extended well beyond the first effort. In fact, after finishing the first draft of Deadly Touch on a Tuesday morning, I started to write the second book in the series that afternoon, and I already had plotlines in my head for at least two more.
The Ava Lee books are stand-alone stories, but they are linked, and Ava’s character and life and those of the people around her expand and change with each book. She is a woman of her generation: well educated, smart, disciplined, and as tough as she needs to be to get things done. Overlaying those qualities are the cultural mores of her Chinese background and a Canadian upbringing; qualities that are sometimes reflected in her politeness and use of understatement. There are those who mistake her politeness for weakness. They always do so at their peril.
So although Ava came to me initially just as name, she quickly captured by imagination, and my heart. My obvious hope is that her readers will come to care for her as much I do.
The Deadly Touch of the Tigress is published by Little, Brown